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Woman made to kneel at Salt Lake rickshaw-puller's feet

The tea shop near City Centre that the complainant was visiting when a group of rickshaw-pullers allegedly forced her to kneel and touch the feet of the man she had questioned for demanding a higher fare. Picture by Mayukh Sengupta

Salt Lake: A young woman was allegedly abused, intimidated and forced to kneel and touch the feet of a rickshaw-puller near City Centre Salt Lake on Tuesday morning because she had questioned the fare demanded by him for a ride.

Prahlad Biswas and three other rickshaw-pullers were arrested after a traffic policeman who was passing by saw the 29-year-old woman being humiliated in front of at least 50 other people, none of whom dared come to her help.

The woman and a friend had hired Prahlad's rickshaw, an improvised one with a low-torque motor, near the Karunamoyee bus stop to reach City Centre. On reaching their destination, the rickshaw-puller allegedly demanded Rs 40 instead of the regular fare of Rs 30, she told the police.

When the woman protested, the 41-year-old allegedly fired a volley of abuse at her and vowed to teach her a lesson. He quickly returned with at least 20 more rickshaw-pullers, all of whom surrounded the woman and made her kneel in front of him, an officer at the Bidhannagar police commissionerate said.

A traffic constable who was going towards Bidhannagar College on his motorcycle stopped to check what was happening and found the woman what appeared to be like a kangaroo court. He immediately detained Prahlad and helped the woman lodge a complaint with Bidhannagar North police station.

Besides Prahlad, three other rickshaw-pullers identified as Nirapada Manna, Palash Biswas and Sukumar Roy were arrested on the basis of the complaint.

The woman told Metro later that Prahlad's reaction to her asking why he wanted Rs 10 more than the normal fare took her by surprise. "I had only told him that the fare should be Rs 30. I take a rickshaw to a tea shop near City Centre on my way to office every other day and so know what a ride to that place costs. But this man abused and threatened me and my friend for that," she recounted.

Prahlad allegedly told her: " Apnar moto chhoto lok dekhini. Jibone konodin rickshaw chorechhen je bhara janben (I have not seen someone so low. Have you ever taken a rickshaw ride that you will know the fare)?"

According to the woman, she thought the ugly episode was over when the rickshaw-puller went away. "My friend and I had tea and snacks even as the experience of being abused in front of so many people made me feel humiliated. Little did I know that worse was to follow."

The woman had by then booked an app cab to reach her office. When the vehicle arrived, she and the friend hopped in without noticing that Prahlad was back with his gang.

"I had just closed the door when this man and at least 20 others surrounded the cab. They started hitting the windows and the windscreen of the cab, asking me to get off," she said.

The woman pleaded with the driver to speed away, which he couldn't do because the group had blocked the way. "They almost dragged me out of the car. I asked the man who had ferried me if he wanted more money, but all of them said I must fall at his feet to beg forgiveness, otherwise they wouldn't let us go."

A crowd of around 50 people remained spectators to the woman's plight.

"I was crying and asking them to spare us. I was made to touch the man's feet in front of so many people. Never before had I felt so humiliated," the woman said.

After she did what the group wanted her to, Prahlad allegedly dared her: " Ne, ebar tor kon police baba achhe taake daak (Now you can call which police father you have)."

The traffic constable who helped her was passing by just then. "He was a godsend. He was really helpful and made Prahlad take us to Bidhannagar East police station on his rickshaw while he followed on his two-wheeler. The cops there said that we needed to visit Bidhannagar North police station to lodge a complaint, which we did," the woman said.

The constable declined to be named. "I was on duty then and the woman needed my help, so I stepped in," he said.

Prahlad and his co-accused have been charged under multiple sections of the Indian Penal Code, including 354 (assault or criminal force against woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 509 (word gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman).

All four got bail after being produced in a Salt Lake court.

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